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Flash Review 2, 10-12: Flash with Class
DCDC Dances On and On

By Terry Hollis
Copyright 2000 Terry Hollis

Dayton Contemporary Dance Company celebrated the opening of its New York season at the Joyce Theater on Tuesday night. Oh, I'm sure there were cocktails and munchies after the show and plenty of music and conversation, but that's not how the company celebrated -- they danced. And they danced, and they danced. With most of the performers holding down each piece it didn't come down to simple stamina, but rather, "This is who we are and this is what we do." The audience loved watching them do it. The company delivers the fire and technique that has become the calling card of lots of groups. But, with a variety of sizes and body types, this is no homogenized dance machine. The joy comes in seeing a personable, connected community of people that just happen to be amazing dancers.

"Sets and Chasers" opened the evening on a light-hearted note. Kevin Ward has choreographed a casual, everyday romp for eleven people set to live recordings by Duke Ellington. Costumed in street clothes reminiscent of the Jazz Age forties, the piece opens with the dancers in a group facing upstage while Ricardo J. Garcia Cruz stands apart. As the music gets into them, their bodies begin to erupt in little interpretations of each riff until the whole group is one big physical orchestra. The work moves along at a pretty even pace, and aside from a sly women's duet and a gawky trio that incredibly uses awkwardness to showcase some dare-devil virtuosity, there are not many punctuation marks. A large part of the work takes place with the dancers' backs to us, relating to each other and sometimes even closing the audience out. When the dancing isn't flat-out technical, Mr. Ward uses either abstract jitterbug steps or, as shown at the finale of the piece, the real thing. "Sets and Chasers" is relaxing to watch because your are not forced to keep up with some rigid logic that the choreographer throws at you. But the ambling nature of the piece does slow things down a little. Ellington's tunes provide a nice undercurrent for the whole thing. It's kept far enough in the background so that neither the dance nor the music fight for dominance.

Dwight Rhoden has created an icy universe in his mega-aerobic "Sky Garden." Starting in silence, the indomitable Sheri "Sparkle" Williams is hoisted up and around by her partner using her legs to carve out the space around him. As Antonio Carlos Scott's metallic electronica pipes in, the dancers begin filling the space with their chests thrust up and ready for battle. The men engage the women in acrobatic and sometimes rough and tumble partnering but it never reads as abusive. Mr. Rhoden creates some great geometric patterns onstage, keeping one group in motion, another in a spread-eagle position with their heads flat on the floor and still another engaged in traveling partnering steps that cut through everyone. The piece does go on a little too long and it appears to have several different points, but the dancers do justice to every step.

Ms. Williams, who does double time with Complexions Dance Company, gives us the meaning of the word endurance. She makes "Growth (A Part of a Bigger Picture)" something anyone, not just dancers, can relate to. Mr. Rhoden's second contribution to the night celebrates the indestructible spirit and the transforming power of taking your body to the limit. Set to a minimal score by Steve Reich, the piece opens with the heavily muscled Williams standing squarely facing the audience. In a black body suit, she cuts the figure of a warrior preparing for battle. As the dance gets going you realize she is both the fighter and the opponent and the acrobatics she blazes through represent a day in the life of everyday folks.

Anytime you use a live brass band in a theater the size of the Joyce, you're gonna feel it. The power of brass rattles your bones. Take that and combine it with choreography that does the same thing and you get an idea of what "Children of the Passage" is like. This collaboration between Donald McKayle and Ronald K. Brown presents a different jazz age; that of old New Orleans. In a loosely structured storyline, Mr. Brown's body-pumping choreography shows us a group of souls moving towards a deliverance. Omotayo W. Olanja creates beautiful flowing dresses for the women and tailored vests and pants for the men that place this work firmly in the past. Mr. McKayle has placed his stamp of out-and-out theater on the piece, especially in the Gede-like playful figure in the second section, "Indulgent Spirit." But Brown rips the piece out of the past. With his trademark style, he combines the aloof strut with the raw physical passion that is imprinted on his work and puts these folks in the here and now. The funeral scene that occurs about halfway through the piece uses loose shoulders and arms to illustrate the hopelessness that weighs the group down. It is soon offset by an exuberant, almost non-stop dance party at the end that whipped the audience into a frenzy Tuesday. As the Dirty Dozen Brass Band blares out the final notes, the company, now dressed in all white, celebrates all the weight that has been taken off of their shoulders. These children are free, and to announce that good feeling they danced. And they danced, and they danced.

Dayton Contemporary Dance Company continues at the Joyce through October 15. For more information, please visit the Joyce web site.

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